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Double Bass Eclecticism and Virtuosity With Franois Rabbath

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Double bass virtuoso François Rabbath has been a pivotal figure in the world of the double bass for decades, with his Nouvelle Technique series continuing to influence countless bassists worldwide.  The following biography of François is derived from theLiben Music website, where several of his pieces can be purchased.

We completed our three interview episodes with François earlier in 2007.  Each episode can be played in the players below, and all feature François performing his own compositions as well as discussing his life and his work on the double bass.

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Born in Aleppo, Syria into a highly musical family, François discovered the double bass at the age of thirteen when one of his brothers brought an instrument home and allowed him to experiment with it. When the family moved to Beirut, Lebanon he found an old copy of Edouard Nanny’s Contrabass Method in a tailor shop and with some difficulty, since he read neither music nor French, began to teach himself. After nine years of work in Beirut, François saved enough money to move to Paris for a year.

He was eager to go to the Paris Conservatory to meet with Mr. Nanny and show him his talents on the the bass. Only after applying to the Conservatory did he learn that Nanny had died in 1947. He was also told that auditions were to be held in three days and that he would never have enough time to learn the required pieces. He asked for the music anyway and returned three days later to finish first among the applicants. However, his stay at the Conservatory was a brief one, since it didn’t take very long to see that he was not only far ahead of the other students but of the professors as well!

While in Paris he began to work as an accompanist, and in 1963 he made his first of many solo record albums. Although never advertised or promoted, the Phillips albumBass Ball became one of the most sought after recordings of its time.

From 1964 he became active composing much music for movies and the theater. At the same time he started to play solo recitals, first in France, then throughout Europe. His American debut was in Carnegie Hall in 1975.

François Rabbath’s uniqueness stems from his refusal to accept any traditional limitations. Whether performing his own fascinating compositions, the music of others or the classical repertoire, one is always moved by his profound musicianship and dazzling virtuosity. You quickly discover that he brings you such a sense of security that the most difficult passages sound effortless.

In 1978 Rabbath met the American composer-double bassist Frank Proto. A close friendship quickly developed when the two discovered that they had many shared musical experiences and philosophies. Neither had any respect for the boundaries that separated classical, jazz and ethnic musicians. Both were as comfortable playing chamber music at a formal concert one day and improvising with jazz musicians the next. In 1980 the Cincinnati Symphony asked Proto to compose a concerto especially for Rabbath. The resulting Concerto No. 2 for Double Bass and Orchestra was premiered by Cincinnati in 1981. Two years later the Houston Symphony asked Proto to write another work especially for Rabbath. The Fantasy for Double Bass and Orchestra was premiered in Houston in 1983. Rabbath has since played the work around the world. Their third collaboration, the Carmen Fantasy, began life as a work for double bass and piano. Rabbath again premiered the work in Cincinnati in July of 1991 with the composer at the piano. Proto orchestrated the work in the spring of 1992. All three works have been recorded and are available on the Compact Disc Frank Proto: Works for Double Bass and Orchestra. (Red Mark 9204). Their most recent collaboration has been on Proto’s Four Scenes after Picasso – Concerto No. 3 for Double Bass and Orchestra.

We are fortunate in that Rabbath has recorded constantly through the years. His sequel to Bass Ball – Multi Bass ’70 (Red Mark 9202) is still available, as is Live Around the World (Red Mark 9201), a collection of his own compositions recorded in concert. The original Carmen Fantasy for Double Bass and Piano with the composer at the piano, was recorded recently along with his own Concerto No. 3 and Two Miniatures –Carmen! (Red Mark 9203).

The importance of François Rabbath to the development of double bass playing is comparable to that of Paganini to the violin. Since the early 1800s when Nicole Paganini established the violin as a virtuoso instrument, solo violinists have practiced the most brilliant of instrumental art. Meanwhile, the development of double bass playing had been seriously neglected. The great and popular 19th century composers did not consider the bass worth their attention and in turn the bass repertoire did not attract potential virtuoso performers with enough genius to change the situation. It demanded an artist with the unique qualities of François Rabbath to break this impasse.

Topics discussed:

-the origins of Rabbath’s bass – how he ended up with it and the benefits of its construction
-mistakes bassists make when buying basses and bows
-how wood has a memory
-how every note has the right spot for the bow, for the speed, for the weight, and what happens when all of these factors align
-you make the wood of your instrument sound bad by playing badly, and you make it sound good by playing well yourself
Rabbath has traveled extensively with his double bass during the course of his career, and he offers some real insight into what it is really like hauling a bass all over the world through various customs and security checks, as well as dealing with airline baggage bureaucrats.

Episode Segments

Rabbath interview 1
The latest episode of Contrabass Conversations is now out! This episode features the first part of our interview with François Rabbath. I had a great time doing this interview, and I hope you all enjoy it!

visit the show page or click below to listen:

Rabbath interview 2
This week’s Contrabass Conversations episode features a continuation of our interview with double bassist François Rabbath plus some music from U.K.-based bassist Leon Bosch. You can check out episode 16 of the podcast for the first part of this interview with François, and detailed information for both guests is available in the show notes below.

visit the show page or click below to listen:

Rabbath interview 3
This week we are wrapping up our interview with double bass virtuoso François Rabbath. You can hear the previous sections of this interview on episode 16 and episode 22 of the podcast. We will also be featuring in interesting new twist in Contrabass Conversations interviews today—the Lyric Opera’s Andy Anderson (a regular collaborator on the podcast)….

visit the show page or click below to listen:

Recordings and Publications by François Rabbath

Art of the Bow DVD

A New Technique for the Double Bass

Solos for the Double Bassist
Two Miniatures for Double Bass and Piano

Bach: Suite No. 1 in G Major for Solo Double Bass
Bach: Suite No. 2 in D Minor for Solo Double Bass
Vivaldi: Concerto in F (or G Major) for Double Bass and Piano

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CD02 – Live Around the World
Breiz, Poucha Dass, Ordis, et al.

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CD03 – Multi Bass ’70
Poucha Dass, Incantation, et al.

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CD04 – Carmen!
Proto: A Carmen Fantasy for Double Bass and Piano. Rabbath: Incantation pour Junon; Reitba; Concerto No. 3.

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CD05 – Rabbath Plays Proto
A Carmen Fantasy for Double Bass and Orchestra; Fantasy for Double Bass and Orchestra; Concerto No. 2.

CD06 – François Rabbath: 60
Rabbath’s recordings of the 1960s, including the legendary “Bass Ball” album.
Check out even more recordings of François Rabbath here

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